Where is the Life in this Cabaret?
Ever since I was little I have been listening to the music from John Kander and Fred Ebb’s masterpiece Cabaret. Everyone remembers how they were first introduced to the magic of the Broadway musical. Mine was Cabaret. Songs like “Cabaret,” “Willkomen” and “Maybe This Time” were familiar before I understood their meaning. So you can imagine my high expectations for the return of Cabaret to the Orpheum Theatre for a run from October 18-23.
This is the Tony Award-winning revival being brought to us as part of the Roundabout Theatre Company’s 50th Anniversary Season. You can imagine my disappointment to discover this show didn't measure up to my expectations – the production felt lackluster, somehow not very put-together, uncharacteristically small, and unnecessarily over-sexualized. It lacked the life I expect to find in the “Cabaret” I came to know as a young girl
Cabaret is a big musical. Here we are in the audience immersed into the infamous Kit Kat Klub. Our Emcee, Sally Bowles is supposed to be led by a reckless, raunchy ensemble nightly enticing the crowd with a whole new world so they can abandon all worries at the door. Somehow the numbers fell flat for me – they were underdone and underwhelming. The performers were led by ambitious choreography, but where was the excitement? The dance numbers throughout featuring the kit kat girls seemed surreal. It was almost as though they were objects moving around on stage rather than humans dancing. The numbers might be beautiful, but the audience is looking for the beating heart.
The opening number in particular stood out as lacking life. Life is supposed to be “beautiful at the Cabaret,” after all! With other recent high-profile productions having graced the stages here a few years back, perhaps our expectations have grown too high. But contrasting different productions can either hurt or help your understanding and appreciation for a piece of work. In the end, this production by contrast felt like it was a completely different show.
WWII Germany was a time of great anxiety for the people, and given our current state of affairs in this country we can relate. So I wanted to feel this pulse on the stage in every scene. We could use a bit of the magic of the Berlin nightlife ourselves to escape! Luckily the show had some redeeming performances that reminded us of the show’s appeal. “Maybe This Time” and “I Don't Care Much” featured breathtaking vocals and emotion finally connected, if just for a moment.
Perhaps we would do well to measure our expectations for those performances that we hold closest to our hearts and they would disappoint less. There were moments where we could see the brilliance on stage here, but in the end I was left looking for more life in this Cabaret.